Honor Rachel, End House Demolitions

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, together with the entire Israeli peace and human rights movement, mourns the death in Gaza of Rachel Corrie and extends its condolences to her family, friends and comrades in the International Solidarity Movement.

Rachel was not the first person killed as a result of Israel’s cruel policy of house demolitions. Less than two weeks ago Nuha Makadma Sweidan and her unborn child were also killed in Gaza when Israeli army sappers “accidentally” demolished their home when they blew up another home nearby. A few weeks before that an elderly woman and a disabled man died under the rubble of their Gazan homes when the soldiers “failed to notice” them. These were no mere accidents. Israel routinely demolishes Palestinian houses on top of all the families’ possessions, and in their haste do not bother to follow prosaic rules of “safety.”

The vast majority of demolitions, it must be understood, have nothing to do with terrorism. According to UN figures, less than 600 of the 10,000 houses demolished since the Occupation began in 1967 involved security suspects. All the rest  94% — were simply houses of ordinary people that were in Israel’s way. That was the case of the home of Dr. Samir Nasrallah, which Rachel died protecting. Dr. Nasrallah had engaged in no hostile activities, had not been charged with anything. His house was demolished because, like dozens of others that have been bulldozed in that section of the dense refugee camp, it laid within a wide “security strip” that Israel wants to create along the border with Egypt. No compensation was given to Dr. Nasrallah, no opportunity to appeal to the court, no alternative housing offered. Simply demolition that leaves families homeless, impoverished, traumatized, ruined. An illegal policy, since international law forbids the demolition of houses by an Occupying Power.

So why does Israel pursue such a heartless policy that seems tailor-made to generating hatred against it? First, the policy of home demolition confines Palestinians to tiny overcrowded and non-viable islands of land, allowing Israel to control the entire West Bank and Gaza through its expansive system of settlements. Second, Israel knows that homes are sacred to Palestinians, the core of their extended family life. By demolishing Israel hopes to break the Palestinians’ will to resist the Occupation and accept life in a truncated bantustan. And third, house demolitions are a key mechanism to the process of displacement, of Israel’s exclusive claim to the entire  country.

Beyond the politics of the Occupation, it is this last reason that motivates us, members of the Israeli peace camp, to resist demolition as Rachel did, to block the bulldozers with our bodies, and to rebuild Palestinian homes when they are demolished. For by doing so we, as Israeli Jews, are saying to the Palestinians: We acknowledge your existence as a people and your right to be in this country. We want to share this country with you, based on the rights of both our peoples. We seek a common future based on a just peace. We refuse to be enemies.

Rachel was not an Israeli. She was, as a member of the International Solidarity Movement, a member of the international civil society, as we all are. In her actions she affirmed her responsibility for upholding the inherent dignity and equal rights of all people, including their right to a nationality. She opposed non-violently the violence that occupation does the Palestinians.

The threshold of what is outrageous has reached unimaginable heights in the Occupied Territories. Little moves us anymore. The demolition of 60 Palestinian homes in the Rafah section of Gaza where Rachel worked made barely a ripple when it happened a year ago. 2400 Palestinians have died in the past two years, a quarter of them children and youth, and 22,000 have been injured. Thirty percent of Palestinian children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition. 500,000 olive and fruit trees have been uprooted or cut down. Israel is today imprisoning the Palestinians behind a 500 mile wall that is much longer, higher and more fortified than was the Berlin Wall. Its all mind-boggling, its all happening before our eyes and — who cares?

Rachel cared.

Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).